Jesse Biddle's comeback trail brings him back to a familiar place

Jesse Biddle's comeback trail brings him back to a familiar place

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Prospect status in the game of baseball is fragile and unpredictable.
 
A reminder of that walked down the tunnel from the visiting clubhouse and sat in the first-base dugout at Spectrum Field late Saturday morning.
 
Jesse Biddle had come back to the place where it all started.
 
He still had that friendly smile and effervescent personality. But the uniform was different and the elbow had a surgical scar on it.
 
Now a member of the Atlanta Braves organization, the former Phillies first-round draft pick made the trip to Clearwater and for the first time since August 13, 2015 -- the night the elbow pain became too much to bear -- pitched an inning in a competitive game.
 
It all seemed just a little surreal that Biddle's first game since having surgery on October 14, 2015, came against the organization that he spent six sometimes hopeful, sometimes frustrating seasons with, but as the left-hander, now 25, pointed out, "It's just one of those things. The baseball world is pretty funny that way."
 
The Phillies sent Biddle to the Pittsburgh Pirates in a nondescript trade in February 2016 and he was claimed on waivers by the Braves a couple of months later. For days, he'd known that the schedule called for him to pitch Saturday, but he was unsure whether it would be at home against the Marlins or on the road against the Phillies. He found out Friday that he'd be making the trip to Clearwater and was elated.
 
"At the end of the day I just want to pitch in a game for the first time in a long time," he said. "But I was definitely rooting for this one, for sure.
 
"I feel really good and I'm excited to face these red jerseys, for sure."
 
Biddle engaged in some light-hearted "trash-talking" via text with former teammate Tommy Joseph on Friday night and as if on cue, Joseph was the first hitter that Biddle faced since that night 18 months ago when his elbow throbbed and he was throwing 83 mph for the Phillies' Triple A team.
 
Biddle walked Joseph on five pitches then came back and struck out Dylan Cozens on a 93 mph fastball and Aaron Altherr on a 94 mph fastball. He ended his inning of work by getting J.P. Crawford on a groundout.
 
It was a very nice outing for any pitcher, never mind one with a surgically repaired elbow pitching for the first time in a year and half.

Cozens and Crawford are what Biddle used to be -- top prospects with the Phillies.
 
Prospects excite the imagination of fans. The excitement that followed Biddle during his time in the Phillies' system had a little extra electricity because he was a local kid who had grown up in Mount Airy, who had attended the 2008 World Series as a fan, who had pitched at Germantown Friends and who had been selected by his hometown team with the 27th overall pick in the 2010 draft.
 
He topped out in Triple A with the club in 2015, his path to Citizens Bank Park blocked by poor control and the elbow injury.
 
Biddle said he was surprised when the Phillies traded him, but he came to terms with it quickly.
 
"Once I got (to Pittsburgh) and I actually put on a different uniform, I realized that there are 29 other teams and that there are a lot of really good coaches out there and a lot of places that I'm happy to be part of," he said. "And now I've found my way to the Braves and it feels like home, really. It's been a really nice journey and I'm glad I found my way here."
 
It's never easy for a highly touted young player to succeed in his hometown. The expectations are high from the start. Add in the presence of family and friends living and breathing on every pitch and the expectations can be smothering.
 
But Biddle said the pressures of trying to succeed at home were never a problem for him.
 
"Honestly, the more I look back on it the more I realize it was just like anywhere else," he said. "Obviously it was a little different for me playing minor-league baseball and having friends and family be able to come to every game, but I really don’t believe it dictated anything that happened while I was here.
 
"I think that any love and support that I got was just friends and family being friends and family and I couldn’t have asked for anything different from the Phillies or anything different from my support system.
 
"It ended up working out the way it did and there are no hard feelings anywhere. I'm really happy with where I'm at and I know the Phillies' organization is looking really good right now."
 
The Braves have shown faith in Biddle. They claimed him on waivers a year ago, put him on their 40-man roster and paid him the major-league minimum salary of $507,500 even though they knew he wouldn't throw a pitch in 2016. They viewed him as a lottery ticket, a still-young pitcher with raw talent that had a chance to put it together.
 
Biddle spent all of last year at the Braves' facility in Florida, rehabbing his elbow after Tommy John surgery. The Braves will continue to go slow with him for the next few months. He will get his innings in the minors and, who knows, might still end up pitching at Citizens Bank Park someday, just not with the team he originally dreamed of representing.
 
"Honestly, I just want to play major league baseball," Biddle said. "And I want to play for the Braves."

Dallas Green did it his way -- driving the Phillies mad, but to the top

Dallas Green did it his way -- driving the Phillies mad, but to the top

Whenever I think of Dallas Green, I think of that night. It was Oct. 21, 1980, the night the Phillies won their first World Series. Green was the manager, the old-school baseball lifer who dragged the Phillies through that summer like a father tugging a whining toddler to the dentist's office. He called them out and cussed them out and challenged them to be the best team in baseball.

On this South Philadelphia night, they finally were. They beat the Kansas City Royals, 4-1, to close out the series, four games to two.

Green was standing in his Veterans Stadium office, his head tilted to one side, his eyes closed, the phone pressed against his ear. He had one hand on the World Series trophy, the other on a freshly opened bottle of Great Western champagne. Flashbulbs were popping all around him. His wife Sylvia and their four children were wiping away tears. Suddenly, the manager's weary eyes snapped to attention.

"Thank you, Mr. President," Green said hearing the voice of Jimmy Carter calling from the White House. "Yes, we're all thrilled. The City of Philadelphia has waited a long time for this moment and we're all enjoying it. There were a lot of people who said we couldn't do it but I think we proved ourselves in this series. We played our hearts out to win this thing."

Green's conversation with the President lasted just a few minutes then he excused himself to rejoin the celebration in the clubhouse. He hugged general manager Paul Owens then went from locker to locker embracing each player, even the ones he feuded with during the season. The sweet taste of autumn champagne washed away the bruised feelings of summer.

"Along the way, I made a few guys unhappy," Green said. "I probably made a few guys miserable. But it was all for a reason."

He nodded toward the celebration.

"This is the reason," he said.

Green drove the Phillies that season, lashing them with his bullwhip tongue, benching veterans for rookies down the stretch, ignoring the grumbling and dirty looks. When Green said, "We're going to do this thing my way," he meant it. Many of the players who were used to the gentle hand of the previous manager Danny Ozark resented Green and made no attempt to hide it. In September they still were sniping at each other. Then, somehow, it all came together.

It was as if the team -- which had fallen short in other years and underachieved in the postseason -- won it all that year just so it could have the satisfaction of throwing that World Series confetti in its manager's face. If that's what it took -- and believe me, that was part of it -- it was fine with Green.

"I'm proud of all these guys, every one of them," Green said that night. "I'm including guys like Larry Bowa and Garry Maddox, guys I had my differences with during the season. When we needed them down the stretch, they busted their butts for this team. I told them in spring training we had the talent to go all the way. I said, 'Hey, we've got the personnel to win this thing but we're gonna do it my way.' There were some doubters in the group, there were those who resisted, but look where we are now."

To get some idea of what that season was like, picture this scene: It is Sunday, Aug. 11, a sweltering hot day in Pittsburgh. The Phillies have just lost the first game of a doubleheader, 7-1, to the Pirates. Green orders the clubhouse doors locked so the reporters are standing in the hallway. The manager launches into a profane rant that is so loud we can hear every word.

"You guys have got to stop being so (expletive) cool," Green bellowed. "Get that through your (expletive) heads. Get the (expletive) off your asses. You're a good (expletive) baseball team but you're not now and you can't look in the (expletive) mirror and tell me that you are. You tell me you can do it but you (expletive) give up.

"If you don't want to (expletive) play, come in my office and (expletive) tell me because I don't want to (expletive) play you."

When the clubhouse door opened, the reporters tiptoed in expecting to find the walls scorched and furniture broken. Instead, Green was sitting behind his desk, his jaw clenched but his voice calm.

"I'm not gonna let these guys quit on themselves," he said. "If I have to yell at them to get them going, I'll yell good and loud. I may not be doing this (leading the club) the right way but I'm doing it the only way I know how."

The Phillies went on to Chicago where they won two of three from the Cubs then to New York where they swept the Mets. The Phils rolled to the Eastern Division title then defeated Houston in a dramatic National League Championship Series and put away the Royals to claim their first world championship. The players had Big D's voice ringing in their ears every step of the way.

The night they won it, the night they finally reached the top of the mountain, Dallas Green enjoyed it more than anyone else. He grew up in Delaware, he was like family to the Carpenters who owned the team. He was a pitcher on the Phillies team that folded down the stretch in 1964. He carried those scars into a career in the front office and finally the dugout. Then came 1980 and the wild ride to the top.

"I know the players are happy and I'm happy as hell for them," Green said leaning against the clubhouse wall. "But they can't appreciate this the way I can. I've been a Phillie forever. I made a stop at every level in the organization: player, coach, manager, farm director. I have a feel for what this (win) means for all the people behind the scenes like the secretaries and the front office staff. I know how they feel right now.

"What do I feel? I feel drained. I feel as if I've given everything I've got to give. But, goddam, it feels good to be on top."

MLB Notes: Tigers star Miguel Cabrera could return soon from back stiffness

MLB Notes: Tigers star Miguel Cabrera could return soon from back stiffness

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Detroit Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera could soon return to the lineup after being sidelined by back stiffness.

Cabrera has been out since leaving the Dominican Republic's game last Saturday in the World Baseball Classic.

Detroit manager Brad Ausmus said Cabrera might play Friday against Atlanta.

"Just not going to rush it," Ausmus said before Wednesday's game against Toronto. "There's no reason to rush it. He's got plenty of at-bats. We'll see how he is on Friday."

Cabrera hit .316 with 38 homers and 108 RBIs last season.

Outfielder J.D. Martinez, who sprained his right foot making a shoestring catch Saturday, is scheduled to be re-examined Friday.

Martinez hit .307 last year with 22 home runs and 68 RBIs.

Blue Jays: Bautista says he is over lower back stiffness
DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Toronto Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista says the lower back stiffness that prevented him from playing for the Dominican Republic at the World Baseball Classic last weekend is no longer an issue.

Bautista was in the original lineup for Wednesday's spring training game against Detroit. But with an off-day Thursday, it was determined to have him play Friday instead.

"I'm feeling great," Bautista said. "I talked to the staff and it makes no sense to just kind of crank it up. Just take a day off."

Bautista is hopeful that his strong start, hitting .563 with two homers and six RBIs in six games before leaving for the WBC, will continue.

"I'm seeing the ball well and feeling good at the plate," Bautista said. "Just excited to be back in the swing of things with the guys, and looking forward to getting ready for the season” (see full story).

Twins: May has Tommy John surgery
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Minnesota Twins right-hander Trevor May has undergone Tommy John elbow surgery that will keep him off the mound this season.

The Twins announced on Wednesday that the replacement of May's torn ulnar collateral ligament was successful. The 27-year-old was transitioning back to starting, following a move to the bullpen halfway through the 2015 season.

With May's injury and their release on Tuesday of veteran right-hander Ryan Vogelsong, the Twins are down to Jose Berrios, Tyler Duffey and Adalberto Mejia in the competition for the fifth spot in the rotation.

May was placed on the 60-day disabled list, making room for the Twins to add left-hander Craig Breslow to the 40-man roster. The 36-year-old Breslow is among the finalists for a middle relief role.

Cardinals: Martinez to pitch on opening night
JUPITER, Fla. -- The St. Louis Cardinals have picked Carlos Martinez to start on opening night against the World Series champion Chicago Cubs.

Cardinals manager Mike Matheny told Martinez about the choice before he pitched Wednesday in an exhibition game against Washington.

The Cardinals host the NL Central rival Cubs on April 2.

Adam Wainwright had started the past four openers for the Cardinals. Matheny said Wainwright took the news well about Martinez getting the assignment this year.

The 25-year-old Martinez was an All-Star in 2015. He went 16-9 with a 3.04 ERA last year.